My teaching journey set sail in 2015.
I was wrapping up my degree in English Literature and History, as I needed this to get accepted onto an MA programme in post-primary education, at a time where I was at a crossroads work-wise. I had been working in retail for most of my working life and had found it to be too comfortable to escape from. My girlfriend suggested that if I were planning on getting into secondary school teaching, it might be ideal to try out English language teaching to test the waters.
I enrolled on a CELTA course soon after and passed, thankfully, and was hired by the same training school, Kaplan, right off the bat. I took a quick trip to Rome before I started my new job in July.
I had some ups and some serious downs during this formative year and this is what I can recall. I guess the following has had some sort of impact on my current teaching or has moulded me in some way.
I remember my first month or two I was planning my lessons thoroughly and long into the evening, much to the agony of my girlfriend! First and foremost, I am not a perfectionist, though my father raised me to have that mentality; he is a retired painter and decorator and was well-regarded for having pristine finishes and doing things the right way, no matter the cost. I guess the reason why I spent so long – maybe an hour on each lesson! – was because I just wanted to get things right, like him. Whether or not these lessons were right is another story. A few embarrassing things to note looking back now is that I would use the coursebook heavily – often using two to four pages for some lessons (insert facepalm here) – and would race through them not allowing students to properly digest the content or practice it, real conversational practice was marginalised, I used PowerPoint presentations to explain grammar (good lord!), and I rarely gave feedback. Wow. That was hard to put down in words.
Keeping in mind what I had learned on CELTA about not padding a lesson with activities and just focusing on language, I fell backwards on this yet again. I guess I was going through a honeymoon period and was enjoying working with people from all over the world and just wanted my lessons to be fun. It took some time for this to be corrected.
I did love a good warmer. I rarely do these nowadays unless they connect to the lesson objectives or I need to inject a bit of energy into the classroom on a cold Monday morning, but I guess I did them as a nice way to get the students’ brains ‘warm’ to the idea of the context of learning or as a way to ‘entertain’ learners as we waited for latecomers to arrive. My favourites at the time were ‘Countdown’, ‘Stop the bus’, and ‘Word ladder’.
Getting to grips with being in a new staffroom can be difficult. There’s a lot that goes on in your head in the first few weeks: where can I sit, who are all these people, will they like me, can I ask them a question knowing that they are busy planning, will I be a nuisance in their eyes? Thankfully, everyone at Kaplan had my back and calmed my nerves. I was really needy back then and was asking so many questions about coursebooks, students, the IWB, school policies, and so on. I hope I wasn’t that annoying to any of my former colleagues reading this, and if I was, my bad. It’s crazy how chilled out I am now. I just get on with my own thing. When new teachers, particularly those that have come off pre-service training, come into the staffroom a little lost and look to me for a helping hand, I am always willing, knowing how hard it was for me way back when.
I was given a teacher-buddy, Gerard (who I talked a little bit about here), who showed me the ropes and, later, really helped me get accustomed to the FCE curriculum the following year when I substituted for him while he managed the CELTA courses. It was great to be working with him and the other teachers I had observed on CELTA and I continued to gain so much knowledge from them.
To some teachers, the printer can often be seen as the holy grail at its best and a rebellious teen acting out at its worst. Using the printer can sometimes be downright political in the staffroom when teachers need to rush to get worksheets printed out before their lesson, and don’t get me started on exam teachers haha. They should be given their own printer! Having said that, it is an area where I have managed to gel with the staff through fixing the printer, rushing to get more paper, suggesting lesson ideas, and so on. Admittedly, I used the printer an awful lot back then and regret it. I tend to use the printer sparingly now and I hope my students will embrace cloud technology as we did during the pandemic era.
Here are few things I did well over the year and some embarrassing things that I can remember:
Settled in well with the staff and management.
Used the IWB well and started to hone my organisation and presentation of slides.
Worked hard on the rapport between myself and the students.
Started to fill gaps in my linguistic knowledge.
Taught all the future tenses in one lesson without fully understanding them myself.
Pronounced ‘consonant’ as ‘constonant’… Ugh.
Didn’t know what ‘preterite’ meant when a student asked me.
When undertaking my first exam class, I was abject and nervous and had no confidence in my ability.